First look: Microsoft SharePoint 2010 beta

Major upgrade to Microsoft's Web site, intranet, and collaboration platform offers wealth of improvements for end-users, IT professionals, and developers

Microsoft SharePoint 2010 is a major upgrade from SharePoint 2007 in several areas. It has a much improved user interface, especially for online editing. It supports more browsers. It does a better job of integrating with Microsoft Office. It provides more opportunities to developers and designers, as well as to shops that might want to consolidate other products (such as blogs and wikis and business applications) with SharePoint.

A Visual Upgrade feature allows gradual conversions of individual subsites from the look of SharePoint 2007 to that of the new SharePoint 2010 at the convenience of the site owners. Sandboxing allows custom code to be deployed with a minimum of risk. Centralized Web administration and rich PowerShell support simplify and speed management tasks. And a centralised "health analyser" interface provides a farm-wide dashboard.

Visual Studio 2010 supports a dozen kinds of SharePoint 2010 projects, can deploy both sandboxed and farm-wide custom projects, and can debug code deployed to SharePoint. SharePoint Designer, essentially a customised version of Expression Web, supports site design at a professional level and even allows nonprogrammers to build simple applications. Interfaces via .Net, REST, XML, and JavaScript allow programmers to tie a SharePoint site to line of business applications and databases, as well as to other applications into SharePoint.

For performance reasons, SharePoint 2010 is 64-bit, and it requires 64-bit Windows Server 2008, as well as 64-bit SQL Server 2005 or SQL Server 2008. (SharePoint 2010 also requires .Net 3.5, which is free.) Microsoft announced these parameters last April, so it shouldn't be a surprise, but some companies may need to factor the cost of new hardware and infrastructure into their budget for upgrading SharePoint.

Pricing for SharePoint 2010 has not yet been released. Assuming that Microsoft prices SharePoint 2010 upgrades reasonably and that the projected server consolidation savings outweigh the up-front cost of new 64-bit servers, SharePoint 2010 should be a must-have upgrade for enterprises that currently depend on SharePoint 2007.

SharePoint 2010 for users SharePoint has long been a versatile platform for all sorts of internal and public Web sites, with an emphasis on group collaboration sites, and SharePoint 2010 has greatly improved and expanded those capabilities. It is more flexible and more capable, has a much improved user interface, and does a better job of implementing multilingual sites. Not every public Web site needs to support dozens of languages, but those that do might seriously consider SharePoint 2010 as an alternative to heavyweight open source Web frameworks such as Drupal.

The online HTML editor in SharePoint 2007 was weak by any measure, and at least one third-party ISV had a nice business selling a better SharePoint edit control. The online editor in SharePoint 2010 is not just improved, it is by far the best Web-based WYSIWYG editor I've seen. It faithfully brings the experience of editing with Microsoft Word to the Web, complete with live previews. Even better, it works just as well with Firefox as it does with IE 7 and IE 8, and almost as well with Safari. That this online editor is rolling out at the same time as Microsoft Word for the Web is no surprise.

The only quibble I have with this control is that it does not strip out the verbose and unnecessary styles created by Word when pasting Word documents into SharePoint pages and converting them to HTML. Good HTML isn't that hard to generate, and a filter for Word styles isn't that hard to write. I'd love to see this improved for the final product or a point release.

While not everyone has embraced the Office 2007 ribbon user interface wholeheartedly, it is by now familiar to most white-collar workers. The pervasive but context-sensitive implementation of the ribbon interface in SharePoint 2010 gives the entire product a cohesive feel while exposing large numbers of related functions together for each context.

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